On 16 September 2020, Ms Creina Chapman, Deputy Chair and CEO of the ACMA, appeared before the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. It has been reported that Ms Chapman’s responses to questions relating to alleged online ‘fake news’ appeared to pass judgement on Facebook posts by Craig Kelly MP, the Member for Hughes discussing the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment.
Evidence was provided in the context of the ACMA’s role in relation to the development by digital platforms of a voluntary code of practice to address the rise of potentially harmful online misinformation.
Late last year, in response to the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry, the Australian Government asked the major digital platforms to put in place a code or codes, and asked the ACMA to oversee the code’s development and report on the state of misinformation in Australia. In June, the ACMA released a public position paper outlining its expectations for the code.
Ms Chapman did not intend that responses to questions from the Committee would be interpreted or understood as comments on specific posts or individual pieces of content.
Comments provided in evidence reflected the ACMA position that platforms should adopt a harms-based approach and that acute potential harms should be dealt with by stronger and more immediate actions that substantially reduce the impact of exposure. A number of platforms have indicated they are increasingly responding to concerns about harmful content on their services and remove content they consider to be seriously harmful.
Consistent with the ACMA’s position paper, Ms Chapman’s comments sought to reaffirm the view that platforms should formally commit to take action to reduce the impact of potentially harmful misinformation.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right and the ACMA recognises that neither platforms, the ACMA nor government should be the arbiter of truth for material circulating on digital platforms. Digital platforms will need to strike a balance in their code between upholding freedom of expression and limiting the spread and impact of seriously harmful misinformation.
The ACMA understands that platforms are continuing to work on their draft code, and we expect a draft will be released for public consultation in the coming weeks.